Saturday, November 22, 2008


Thursday and Friday, Irene and I gave a two-day seminar to WYA members (now they are WYA members, they weren't when we started...) at the National University of Rwanda. It is the holidays now for Rwandan students, as it is the rainy season here, the only students left at the university of Rwanda were the science students who were still in the middle of exams. We were incredibly lucky, with an empty campus, to have over 40 students participate for 2 days while taking a break from exams.

Our seminar focused on the dignity of the human person - who am I? who are you? and what implications does that have for freedom, solidarity and human rights. We also spoke about HIV/AIDS and Assisted Reproductive Technologies. As in every seminar, I began by introducing WYA - who we are and what we do. When I speak about how WYA was founded, at a conference on Population and Development at the UN in 1999, I ask the participants - if they had been the young people - what they would have asked to be considered as the basis of development. The answers I almost always receive are access to employment, food, education, basic healthcare and good governance. From time to time I'll receive answers like providing youth with a greater voice, or technology skills. Here in Rwanda was the first time I've received the answer: self confidence.

Upon reflection it is absolutely a requirement for development, we cannot develop if we do not believe we are worthy of respect or capable of creating a better future. After each seminar, Irene and I would break the participants into groups for discussion and they would then present their answers. In every discussion we asked them to present the core issues along with solutions. Every group, at some point would mention again the need for self confidence. They also spoke a great deal about peace, and the need to accept every member of society and demonstrate that everyone, regardless of any condition, can contribute in some way to society.

The answers were so incredible to hear. As I'm always made aware of when speaking to various groups, people worldwide have many of the same needs and desires for change. Here in Rwanda, with its unique history of recent human rights abuses and genocide, our members have extra difficulties to overcome alongside a much greater awareness of how important the work of WYA is.

An interesting side note is that people here will talk a great deal of progress and reconstruction - almost never will anyone say the word genocide, although they might mention 'war' or '1994'.

I also realised in these last few days that while many humanitarian and aid agencies have flocked to Rwanda, no one has come to offer counselling or guidance to the survivors. Both the perpetrators and those attacked are in great need of guidance to understand what happened, how, to make sense of how to move forward, and to deal with any emotional or psychological trauma they may have endured or still suffer with. No one has yet come to offer that.

The lucky ones are those are able to integrate back into society and continue with their lives, they work extra hard to ensure nothing like that will ever happen again and through all this they struggle with comprehending and coming to grips with what happened. Many are not so lucky and retreat into their homes in the hills, living from day to day unable to move on with their lives. I hope someone reading this blog will take the initiative to come. People now, I get the impression, are open to help and guidance and it could really change many people's lives if they were to receive that.

As we speak with the members about HIV/AIDS, about human dignity, about perceptions of the person, there is no need to go into the dangers of what discrimination and placing people into categories of fully human or less human can do. If you simply begin to mention those dangers, it is obvious in their faces how deeply they understand what can happen. In that way, as they become aware of the concept of intrinsic human dignity - it is something which can really guide their lives and their work. I would love to offer more WYA members and youth to learn from the Rwandese about the importance of these issues.

The Rwandese members here are inspirational to me, as they open up little by little about their pasts, and how much they want to accomplish in their lives, it hits home how lucky so many of us are worldwide to not have endured what they have endured, but also how much they can offer to the world if they are able to retain those lessons and remind others' and other countries of what needs to be done.

1 comment:

nascodros said...

I am one of members in Butare, the time you spent in NUR had been an odd chance for me learn about Human Dignity, it have got inspiration about how Human dignity is the foundation of Human rights, to my best knoledge I think that all Universal Declaration on Human Rights trends to help poeple to livce and experience their dignity, I would be better when the whole world choose to promote Human dignity as a matter of Protecting Human Rights, one can not why Human Rights, while he/she dont understand Human dignity. I recognize the fruitful work Done by Irene and Mary Halpine over the time we were togehter in National University of Rwanda. I thank National University of Rwanda Authority for their assistance they provide us with, I thank all members in NUR for their commitments to promoting Human dignity, I also thank the Jounalists who participated in the event especially Salus Radio.